by Jerry Vigil

If you've ever shopped for a small mixer, whether it be for your home studio or for remote station broadcasts or even as a submixer for your present production console, you probably have a good idea of what these small mixers cost and what you get for your money. If the price tags and features you've seen have been less than attractive, you'll love what you see in Mackie's Micro Series 1202 12-channel Mic/Line Mixer. At a suggested list price of just $399, the 1202 blows the competition out of the water.

Greg Mackie, the founder of Mackie Designs, Inc., may ring a bell to some of you veteran "musician types" as the founder of Tapco, a company whose mixers were quite popular back in the seventies. Mr. Mackie's extensive experience with mixers and an obvious understanding of the limited budgets of people in the music industry have come together in the 1202 to provide a mixer that both meets the needs of its user and comes at a price that makes it hard to resist. Mackie Designs, Inc. is only three years old, and from the looks of things, we will be hearing a lot more from them and seeing a lot more of their mixers as time goes on.

The company does have larger consoles with more inputs and more features, and amazingly enough, the prices are still incredibly low. For example, their model 1604 16-channel mixer is priced at under $1,100! We thought about taking a look at this unit, but there's just something about a 12-channel mixer for $399 that made us choose the 1202 for this review.

If you're looking at the photo and saying, "Twelve channels...I only see eight," that's because four of the "channels" are stereo. You get four mono inputs at channels 1 through 4. Channels 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12 are the stereo pairs. The connectors and controls on the 1202 can be divided into three groups: the patchbay, the channel strips, and the output section. We'll begin with the patchbay.

At the top left of the mixer are four XLR mike inputs. There's no need to have external mike preamps; the 1202 has four discrete, balanced preamps, and they're very quiet. "But," you say, "I have big, professional mikes that need phantom power." No problem. Each of the four XLR inputs provides phantom power controlled by the PHANTOM switch on the rear panel. You say you don't need that many mike inputs and you'd rather have more line inputs? Okay. Use the ¼-inch TRS line inputs on channels 1 through 4. These inputs accept balanced or unbalanced signals. Directly below these inputs are four trim pots for channels 1 through 4 which provide enough gain to handle virtually any input level you throw at them.

To the right of the first four inputs are the ¼-inch unbalanced inputs for the four stereo inputs. The left and right channel inputs are separate from each other, and each left channel input can be used as a mono input if desired. If you plug a mono signal into the left input jack, the signal will be routed to both the left and right outputs. You can also plug a mono signal into the left input and a separate mono signal into the right input. This will send the left input to the left channel and the right input to the right channel with the PAN pot controlling the level of one input relative to the other.

Above these jacks are the STEREO AUX RETURNS and AUX OUTPUTS for the two auxiliary busses on the 1202 which enable connection of effects boxes and processors to the mixer. AUX 1 and AUX 2 provide mono sends and stereo returns.

At the far right of the patchbay are the mixer outputs. There are three. The first set is the balanced, stereo, main output. The second is a tape output which taps the main outs and can be sent to your recorder. Adjacent to the tape outputs is a stereo pair of tape inputs which share the AUX 2 circuitry which enables switching between tape playback and AUX 2 signals with the TAPE IN/AUX 2 switch. The third output is the headphone jack which provides a very healthy amount of volume (or unhealthy if cranked too high).

This pretty much covers the patchbay section with the exception of four channel insert points found on the back panel. While many consoles provide channel inserts for each channel, the 1202 provides them only for channels one through four. This obviously helps reduce the cost of manufacturing, and when you think about it, together with the two auxiliary sends and returns, it's easy to get by without insert points on every channel. The insert points tap the outputs of the mike preamps and are before the channel faders and equalizers...which brings us to the channel strips section of the tour.

As mentioned, there are eight channel strips -- four mono and four stereo. The strips each have the same controls and are basically identical except for the fact that there is more gain available on the first four mono channels. At the bottom of each strip is the GAIN control which adjusts the channel's level from off, to unity gain, to +20dB. A detent is provided at the straight up position.

Above the GAIN control is the PAN control. This control works as a normal pan control on the first four mono channels as well as on the last four channels as long as the last four are being used as mono inputs. If stereo signals are applied to any of the last four channel strips, the PAN control acts like the balance control on your home stereo system.

Above the PAN control on each channel are the two EQ controls. These bass and treble controls are the shelving type of EQ in that they boost or cut all frequencies beyond a set frequency. The LO EQ is set for 80Hz and will boost or cut up to 15dB all frequencies at 80Hz and below. The HI EQ is set at 12kHz and has a boost/cut range of 15dB for all frequencies at and above 12kHz. While this EQ is not very elaborate, it is enough to brighten a voice track or a muddy music bed. Any serious EQ-ing should be done with outboard gear.

Finally, above the EQ section on each channel strip are the AUX 1 and AUX 2 sends. These sends control the level of signal to the two auxiliary outputs on the patchbay. As with any auxiliary sends on a console, these may be used to provide separate mixes as well as sends to an effects box. The sends are post-fader and post-EQ. On channels five through twelve, the sends mix the mono sum of their respective stereo inputs.

At the end of our tour, we get to the output section of the 1202. Here we find the TAPE IN/AUX 2 switch mentioned earlier. To the right of this button are the two stereo auxiliary return controls for AUX 1 and AUX 2. These knobs control the amount of signal from an external effects box, for example, that will be applied to the stereo master mix. Once again, the TAPE IN/AUX 2 button can be pressed to use AUX 2 as a stereo tape playback monitor.

Below the auxiliary controls are two, 12-LED meters which can be switched with the INPUT CH. METERING button to display three different levels. When the button is in the "out" position, the meters display the stereo output of the mixer. When the INPUT CH. METERING button is in the "in" position, the two rows of LED's become independent of each other. The right row then displays the overall level of all twelve channels, and you can monitor a single channel by turning all the others down. The left row of LED's shows the collective level of the mike pre-amps on channels one through four. This function enables optimum setting of each input when each channel is adjusted one at a time with the others off.

Below the LED's are the MASTER gain and PHONES gain controls. The MASTER GAIN feeds the main and tape outputs on the patchbay. The PHONES gain obviously controls headphone level. The manual emphasizes that the headphone amp circuitry is a "high-current version" of their main output amp and can be used as an additional, high-quality output for recording and monitoring. In addition, the headphone amp is completely independent of the main amp, so a mix can be previewed in the headphones while the master gain is off.

All of this and you pay only $399! Getting this many features at this price tends to make one think that the 1202 is a noisy mixer encased in plastic and built with the most inexpensive components on the market. NOT! Sturdy, steel construction encases sealed, rotary controls which will stay clean of dust for a long time, and the manufacturers are confident enough in the 1202 to offer a three-year limited warranty on parts and labor!

As far as the quality of the components and circuitry goes, here are some of the impressive specs reported by Mackie: Signal to Noise ratio at 90dB. The mike pre-amp E.I.N. (equivalent input noise) is at -129dBm @ 150 ohms, 20Hz - 20kHz. Maximum gain (mike in to main out) is 84dB (to unbalanced out) and 78dB (to unbalanced out). Frequency response is 20Hz to 40kHz. Distortion is less than .025%. Adjacent channel cross talk (at insert outputs) is -85dB @ 1kHz. Maximum output level is +28dBu balanced and +22dBu unbalanced. The rack-mountable unit is roughly 11.5" X 10.5" X 2.5" and weighs seven pounds which includes the weight of the internal power supply.

The Mackie 1202 mixer is ideal for small purpose applications. Those of you who use musical instruments in a studio with limited console inputs will find the 1202 perfect as a submixer for guitars, keyboards, and samplers. The unit can even be used as a mixer for an 8-track recorder (or 12-track if you want to commit to four stereo pairs). The compact design of the 1202 makes it easily transportable for remote broadcasts. And if you're thinking about putting together a small production studio at home, the 1202 is an inexpensive mixer you can use to get started, and one you'll be able to use even after you upgrade to a larger console.

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